POETRY PAGE FOUR
COLUMN 104, APRIL 1, 2004
(Copyright © 2004 The Blacklisted Journalist)
EPITHALAMIUM IN WINTER
(A Long Poem)
"Everything that is visible hides something that is invisible."
We watch the ships that glide the river,
then mumble out our earthly schemes.
The air above the bank reflects a foggy light
the way a grid of bones reflects our dreams.
Imagine how our father pressed our mother's
milky breasts, then wonder what she heard--
the flutter of gulls, a dull, announcing bell--
all they have to give each other is their word.
Take away the straw, clear away the leaven,
let the muddy mumble of the river pass.
Don't think the world is held in heaven
by folded hands of deep, blue glass,
or think the school of sleepy boys and girls
who rub to fire their clay and feed the sod,
remember much while here the river of light
and silt that still meanders back to God. ##
* * *
A kettle on the stove warms my neighbor's kitchen.
The room is scented with the soft perfume of loss.
His stiff body, locked at the joints by the long
grudge of days, wants to carry his wish again.
He feels the weight of flesh press down like marble
on a pillar that holds above a floor of stone.
Next door, the shirtless boys mix their potion
of darkness for a breakfast of nightshade.
What will they do for 50 years without a wound?
There is no wide quietness in the street below,
no rose of young companionship to bloom,
nor trackless field of snow beyond his window.
Just the L as it gargles down the city's iron throat.
Maybe some year, the boys will learn to read.
Tonight, an opera is for him the voice at prayer.
He has his X-ray irony that sees to bone.
Have yourself a merry little Christmas.
At 65 he wants to be alone. ##
* * *
That old queen is creepy.
Just watching without a wife.
Guys should stop being gay
after they reach forty-five.
Otherwise, like an old, pot
that's cracked, they ooze
their epidemic of loneliness.
On some black and red painted
earthenware from ancient Greece
a man with beard and cane
touches the downy cheek of a boy.
Few wonder what the hollow
of this amphora holds besides
the dry ephemera of days. ##
* * *
FIRE MAKES CLAY HARD
Their first Christmas together married.
News of it comes by photos on the Internet.
A new house, too, in a field that looks like Kansas.
More tinsel on the tree, please. You bet!
Oh, dear, all those poetry slams and college tours,
the politics of art--it looks like they wrestled
with the angel of convention and convention won.
Where is the revolution they were working towards--
performance poets plotting a midnight raid?
Where is that baseball cap worn bill backwards?
They simply wanted to get laid! ##
* * *
He is on a train or perhaps a boat. It is evening.
Always, he forgets a suitcase left behind.
Could it hold his earthly life?
He prays no one sees his nakedness.
"Come on," they say, then suddenly he wakes.
Take the mosquito net off the porch.
Pin roses from the garden on it.
See the way we join our earthly life.
Be careful thorns don't scratch her face.
This will be her makeshift wedding veil. ##
* * *
A flower cannot step
outside its bloom
the way a man can step
outside his need.
A man could simply say
to a flower with petals of stone,
"Come, live with me,"
then know he ends by living alone. ##
* * *
The sun is dark as if dressed in the ash of mourning.
The moon is red like the color of sacrificial blood.
Then the stars fall from the heavens like green figs
that fall from the fig tree when a hurricane blows.
The mess that lovers make always looks the same.
And what is this about, my potbellied friend?
He has a wife, a pearl that is companionship.
His heart and hands have found a home.
You, what have you? Just the sunken ship
that is your life, and if by chance a poem. ##
* * *
He lies in bed watching her sleep.
A lover gives himself away.
Then he watches himself watching. ##
* * *
Let maidens trail a flowery train.
Let dancers skip to mandolins.
Enjoy this body without pain.
Have mercy Lord, upon our sins. ##
* * *
All those boxes on the floor,
strewn in delicate confusion.
Time to arrange, to sort:
this book stays but not that one.
They are alone together, now.
Four walls will blot their words.
When you open a new book,
take care not to break the spine. ##
* * *
By the lake, gray ice seals the secret of summer.
He came here to see again the counterfeit stars.
The drum repeats the rhythm of the drummer.
Just wish the lovers well and stand afar.
Already, the damp air holds a scent of snow.
He brings with him the cadaver of his desire.
It has a death grip on his heart and wont let go.
Our Lord has put within his breast a terrible fire. ##
* * *
It always hurts,
the lodestone in our thighs.
Sometimes we laugh to see
where wrestling got us,
but it hurts--
not a wound, nor blood, but
being lost on a lost continent--
please find us in the flames. ##
* * *
The slow, departure waltz begins.
Across the floor of fire,
past the walls of ice,
the children follow once again.
Come dull and broken hearts,
you with wrinkled hands,
and you with heavy feet,
let's dance, or never dance again.
It's not so fast, the rhythm here--
alone, together, such a thrill.
Just do your best to keep in step,
and when you trip, you step again.
Oh, so very sweet; oh, so very nice.
Across the bridge of fire,
past the fields of ice,
no one gets to dance here twice.
Then off you go, so quick, so fleet,
step to the vast beyond.
How lovely sing the violins.
The children follow once again. ##
* * *
TONGUES OF FIRE
She lights two candles
unto the Lord--one for her
and one for whom she loves.
There they burn without a sound.
No one tells the difference
from the others burning all around. ##
* * *
FROM THE HIGH WINDOW
When did the word "together" round out his mouth?
Was it already warm in one another's arms,
or did it tremble like an aspen leaf
set against the blue of Rocky Mountain sky?
We guess the marriage was a natural certainty.
It is the world's good to reach and hold,
to couple and have the same vocabulary.
The troll that lurked beneath the village bridge
scared the poet those days in grammar school,
even though the creature only lived off ink.
All morning he'd avoid a glance across that page.
But trolls will wait. In time we all must cross.
Who knew that now the poet is that very troll.
You growl your language and I growl mine.
He wants to offer a toast, a cup of joy,
but honestly, this is only what he knows:
where one finds stone, another finds glass.
Love makes the world for couples opaque.
Don't trick him with the fiction of going back.
No one wants to eat a wrinkled fruit
plucked lately from a withered tree.
By the window, the day's last light floods in
and turns the poet's glass of sherry to gold.
A bravery comes with twilight's alcohol.
As shadows stretch across the street he sees
his children dressed in gauze and living in a book.
The fire of poetry starts to burn among the young.
You need dry leaves, some twigs, then fagots, too. ##
[Robert Klein Engler lives in Chicago and teaches at Roosevelt University. His books are available from amazon.com.] ##
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